“Augmented Reality” is a meaningful technical term that enjoyed a brief celebrity as buzzword. In its strict usage, augmented reality refers to a representation of the “real world” that is supplemented by digital sensory input. For example, yesterday, I posted a marketing video from Suwappu, a company that produces augmented reality toys. When viewed through a smartphone display, Suwappu figurines inhabit an illustrated, digital environment. The digital display can also show the figurines “talking” to each other with quote bubbles. Suwappu’s smartphone app augments reality with superimposed digital images. Although the difference between a QR code and an augmented reality system seems semantic, it’s a worthwhile distinction. Whereas the QR code and similar smartphone inputs redirect users from a physical object to a digital interface, an augmented reality system combines the digital and physical interfaces into a hybrid form. In 2009, Esquire introduced augmented reality versions of its print publication: images and text animated when viewed through a webcam. Since 2009, however, print publications have been moving towards QR code-type implementations and away from augmented reality. Mashable reports that The Atlantic is inserting scannable pages into the print edition. Readers will use a smartphone app to access content exclusive to web and tablet editions. Like QR, this format is conducive to ad walls: users will need to pass through an advertising page to reach the web content. The scannable content is a less than optimal reader experience, however, insofar as it forces a swivel from print to digital and slows down content consumption. But one smartphone app might bring augmented reality back.
Aurasma is an app that lets users view “auras” through their smartphones. The Aurasma website looks suitably New Age, complete with wonky fonts and silken streams of psychedelic colors. This technology is no joke though. In fact, it’s amazing. Aurasma pins labels, videos, etc.—auras—on real world objects, visible through a smartphone screen. When you hold up your phone and gaze into a store, you might see different advertisements popping up on clothing items, a video that plays when you look at a family photo on the desk, and so forth. Aurasma positions itself in direct opposition to QR and other technologies that force users to navigate from the real world to the Internet. Instead, Aurasma brings digital information into reality, generating a kind of permeability between cyber and real space. I’m a glasses-devotee, and as a kid, always dreamed of spy-spectacles that would reveal information about any object in my field of vision. Not so fantastical these days. If widely distributed, the Aurasma technology can revolutionize education (imagine a dissected frog with all the parts virtually labeled), advertising, and media. Digital publishing could forgo QR style scanning and in-house apps to increase the volume of advertising and interactive content on print pages. Forward-thinking publishers might start considering how augmented reality could yield a better reading experience and higher profits than current alternatives.